“Breakfast” and “Lunch” were code words used during Operation Menu – the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. I’m sorry I can’t give a more detailed historical account but, as of this writing, some of the data is still classified and I’ll be long dead before all is revealed.
I was stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp, 1969-’70. I’ve never discovered the precise distance but, depending on who you talked to and which way you pointed, Tay Ninh West was between seven and ten miles from the Cambodian border and stood more or less directly across the border from the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
I’m still kicking myself for not keeping a journal to keep all the incidents and memories in their proper historical order so that’s why I can only say it was some time between “Breakfast and Lunch.”
Tay Ninh West was properly the airfield for fixed-wing aircraft. The landing strip was constructed of M8A1 PSP (perforated steel plate) as were the helicopter revetment floors, etc.; but the rest of the ground comprising the flight-line was just plain, bare, hard-pan dirt.
While walking back to the cantonment or Company Area from the flight-line I suddenly stumbled and stopped. I had to stretch out my arms laterally just to steady myself and keep from falling on my ass. The earth itself, the seemingly reliable, always-there dirt beneath my feet, had begun bouncing rapidly about 6 inches up and down as though I were standing atop a wobbly trampoline.
At first I thought “earthquake”; but then my jungle fatigues suddenly started flapping like I was caught in a powerful 60 MPH wind and I had to adjust my balance against it just to stay on my feet. Oddly, I don’t recall hearing anything at all – not a sound. Perhaps the shock-wave vibrations I then experienced were low-frequency and just below the threshold of audible perception or the source was just too far away. I scanned the horizon and discovered a column of black smoke slowly rising at a great distance to upwards of 4,000 feet.
I said to my platoon sergeant, “What the hell was that?” He opined (because he probably didn’t know) that it was an EOD Team (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) detonating some captured/surplus ordnance. He might have lied but it’s highly unlikely that a mere Army platoon sergeant would be privy to secret Air Force bombing missions inside technically neutral Cambodia.
At the time, a B-52 bombing strike was the third most powerful weapon in the U.S. Military arsenal. We had and still have Hydrogen Bombs that make the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki downright pissant.
In helicopter flights over Vietnam some places were moonscaped as far as the eye could see. Bomb craters of various sizes, often water-filled, reflected cloud and sky. Some of the explosive impact craters were large enough to easily hold two-story houses.
A B-52 bombing strike is much more than a man-made earthquake, and feeling the shock waves it generates, even from ten miles distance, an arbitrarily safe distance, plays upon my psyche in ways I may never understand. From then on I felt detached somehow, from the earth, and the world I, until then, relied upon for every footfall, that it was now dynamic, capricious, temporary, and no longer worthy of trust. I was shaken to the very core of my being.